Behind The Click UPDATE: Partpic CEO Jewel Burks Wins $36,000 At 36|86 Pitch Contest
Welcome back to “Behind the Click,” the column in which we profile Black women in STEM professions. Want to pitch this section? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Name: Jewel Burks
Favorite read: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. A short book, but has been incredibly impactful to my life.
Favorite apps: Google Maps (because I’d be lost without it!), Venmo, Slack, Shazam, Twitter and Instagram.
Ultimate goal for 2015: My ultimate goal is for Partpic to reach $2 million in revenue.
Most inspired by: My family.
One quote that inspires you: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path.” – Prov. 3:5-6
Well-known technology website TechCrunch hosted its annual Disrupt competition last September. Among the 26 startups selected to participate in its San Francisco Battlefield was Partpic, an Atlanta-based visual recognition startup helps enterprise clients save time and money to find replacement parts. The co-founder and CEO Jewel Burks blazed the stage, garnering widespread support as the only African-American-led company pitching the panel of judges. [Update: PartPic won the 36|86 contest’s $36,000 grand prize, an award given from a public-private economic development group.]
“The judges were giving us great feedback and it went really well, so we had a good feeling about making it to the finals,” says Burks. “We didn’t win the Disrupt cup, but we did win an award [Best Enterprise Disrupter] from Accenture, which turned out to be another amazing thing for us because now we’re actually partnering with Accenture to work with some of their large clients, so that’s awesome.”
Here, we caught up with the Howard University grad to discuss tech entrepreneurship and diversity in tech.
MadameNoire: How did you get your start in the technology space?
Jewel Burks: I interned at Google in 2009 and fell in love with the tech industry.
MN: As a startup founder and CEO, what’s a day in the life for you?
JB: I wake up, I pray, check email and write a to-do list for the day. Then I get dressed, go to the office, eat breakfast, and usually alternate between meetings with potential investors/customers/team members and working through the items on my list. Typically in the evenings if I’m in Atlanta I’ll cook dinner, talk to family on the phone and continue to work. When I’m traveling, I’ll usually have events or dinners in the evenings, then I go to sleep. For some reason I can sleep much better when I’m on the road. When I’m at home, I usually stay up and work and have a hard time sleeping.
MN: There’s been a lot of conversation around diversity in technology throughout the year given big name tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter releasing their diversity data. As an African-American woman in tech, how has your experience been in maneuvering through the space?
JB: It wasn’t easy when I first started my career, because I had a hard time adjusting to living in Silicon Valley and honestly wasn’t mature enough (I was 21, 22 at the time) to battle through it. I ended up leaving and moving to Atlanta to be closer to family and friends.
Now I have grown up and have much tougher skin. It is still frustrating knowing that Partpic has defensible technology, huge market potential, a qualified team and we have had such a hard time with fundraising, but I don’t get discouraged because I have faith we will make it. I’m also fortunate because I’m in a unique position to participate in and change the narrative about diversity in tech so that it won’t be as hard for the people of color coming up next.
MN: What will it take to bridge the current tech-talent pipeline issue?
JB: There are a lot of things that have to be done but here are my top three:
1) Early exposure to tech — I love the work Kimberly Bryant and others are doing to expose kids to coding at a young age and I have no doubt there will be more talented innovators and creators in the next generation.
2) Culture shift in the industry — Google has done some great work to bring ideas around unconscious bias to the forefront and this has to continue and expand. It’s great that more innovators will be prepared for roles in tech in the next generation but if they are subject to the biases that do exist and play a role in the lack of people of color in management then we’ll never see a real shift in the numbers.
3) More investment in people of color/women led startups — I’m seeing a lot of innovative startups (including my own) be denied investment while stupid copycat startups founded by people with no industry experience but the right “pedigree” get funded. More wealthy Black and Hispanic people need to become tech investors and actively write checks, and more White investors need to invest in women and people of color.
MN: Your startup is based in Atlanta, which has a burgeoning tech scene. What does the Atlanta tech scene offer tech entrepreneurs that San Francisco or New York City may not offer?
JB: Atlanta is a more supportive community. Since its still a relatively small scene, you can get to know the players and root for each other. For example, Mayor Kasim Reed sent out a tweet to cheer us on when we competed at TechCrunch Disrupt. I thought that was amazing and I doubt we’d get that type of love if we were in SF or NYC.
MN: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received or given?
JB: The most important part of your company will forever be the people. Your ability to execute will be tied to your ability to build a great team. Choose wisely, and don’t be afraid to fire when you’ve made selection mistake.
Based in New York City, Janel Martinez is a multimedia journalist who covers technology and entrepreneurship. She is the founder of “Ain’t I Latina?” an online destination geared toward Afro-Latinas. You can follow her up-to-the-minute musings on Twitter @janelmwrites.